NENA does not oppose $15 billion NG911 proposal, but wants language ‘corrected,’ CEO says
National Emergency Number Association (NENA) CEO Brian Fontes said it is “false” that his organization would oppose legislation that would provide $15 billion in federal funding for next-generation 911 (NG911) deployments, but he reiterated NENA’s stance that some language in the existing proposal should be changed.
NENA’s position on the NG911 funding language in the U.S. House infrastructure bill—known as the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act—is being mischaracterized by some as opposition, Fontes said during a keynote interview at the virtual Conference for Advancing Public Safety (CAPS) event hosted by Mission Critical Partners. NENA believes there are “many, many good aspects” of the legislation, particularly the $15 billion in federal funds with no requirement of a local match, he said.
Meanwhile, NENA’s concerns about the standards, cybersecurity and advisory-committee language should be perceived as part of the normal discourse associated with the development of legislation, Fontes said.
“I find it tragically amusing that NENA—as an organization—and Brian—personally, as an individual—have been identified and criticized as opposing the legislation or attacking the legislation,” Fontes said. There’s absolutely no truth to that, and it’s offensive to hear it.
“This is absolutely critical, valuable legislation for the advancement of 911 to next-generation 911 for all of us in this country and for all of the millions of tourists that we have each year. So, any type of characterization that NENA would oppose this legislation is—on its face—false.
“Do we support the idea that some of the language needs to be corrected? Absolutely. That’s part of the process, which is to ensure that whatever evolves through the processes is something that will be acceptable, hopefully, to all.”
To date, NG911 funding has been included in the Democrat-led infrastructure bill introduced in the House known as the LIFT America Act, but NG911 language has been conspicuously absent from large spending proposals released by President Joe Biden and Republican leadership.
Language supported by the Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition—a group of public-safety organizations that includes APCO that was established last year—is in the LIFT America Act, but officials for NENA, NASNA and iCERT have outlined aspects of the proposal that they find objectionable.
“We’re very happy that legislation has been introduced. We’re very happy with many aspects of that legislation,” Fontes said. “We thought—and still do think—that there are some areas of that legislation that can be improved. And by ‘improvement,’ the improvements really relate to how easy will it be to implement the grant program, based on the language in the statute—that’s kind of my standard for improvement.
“We believe that some of the elements of the LIFT Act, as it’s currently written, deserve revisit and a rethink. Some of it is what I call low-hanging fruit; with others, I just don’t understand why.”
Specifically, Fontes said he would like to see a different representation on the advisory committee that would oversee key aspects of the NG911 funding program proposed in the LIFT America Act.
“I’m not against advisory committees at all …. but this advisory committee would only have about 25% representation from the 911 community and 75% from others in public safety,” he said. “I think there needs to be more of a balance, to be perfectly honest with you.
“And for some reason, there was language in there to try to exempt this advisory group from federal laws governing advisory groups. There has never been a federal advisory committee or group established under law that was exempt from the very laws that would govern advisory committees. I’m really not clear why that was written the way it was in the current language.”
Fontes also said NENA has concerns with some of the cybersecurity language included in the LIFT America Act’s NG911 funding proposal.
“I think those who were advocating for language in the LIFT Act recognize that the language in the act itself dealing with cybersecurity needed to be modified, and we would agree,” Fontes said, without providing any details.
Indeed, representatives of the Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition have stated that the intent of the cybersecurity language was designed to mirror the findings of the FCC’s Task Force on Optimized PSAP Architectures (TFOPA) that were released in February 2016 and would support changes reflecting that intent.
When discussing the LIFT America Act NG911 language, Fontes spent the most time detailing issues that NENA has with the treatment of its i3 standard, which is being used widely as 911 centers migrate from legacy networks to the IP-based platform that is expected to be the foundation of NG911. Given this, i3 should identified in the legislation as a “commonly accepted standard” that would be eligible for federal NG911 funding under the LIFT America Act,” he said.
“It [i3] is absolutely a commonly accepted standard,” Fontes said. “In fact, right now, I know of no alternative next-generation 911 standard. I know that ATIS is working on IMS NG911, but that standard is based in large part on the i3 standard, as well.
“I just simply don’t understand why the i3 standard wasn’t addressed explicitly as a commonly accepted standard. Obviously, we would want to see that modified or simply say, ‘Look, rather than specify standards in legislation, let the grant authority under this legislation determine what constitutes acceptable standards for next-generation 911.’ It would be a lot easier, and it’s not time locked. It would allow for innovation over the years, without having to go back to Congress and ask for changes in the legislation.”
In addition, the current language in the NG911 portion of the LIFT America Act would require public-safety organizations that develop standards like NENA and APCO “to kind of go through an extra hoop” by submitting their standards to ANSI, Fontes said. NENA is already doing that with i3 and hopes to receive ANSI approval later this year, but Fontes noted that may not be the case with all technologies associated with NG911.
“There are standards bodies out there, and their products—their standards—are incorporated in the provisioning of next-generation 911, [but those standards] have never gone through an ANSI process nor probably ever will go through an ANSI process, and it’s unclear how you deal with those standards [under the LIFT America Act language],” Fontes said. “GIS is one group, for an example.”
NENA’s input on such issues should not be perceived as opposition to the NG911 funding proposal, according to Fontes.
“It’s just part of the process,” he said. “There may be some legislation that has been introduced that has never been edited or modified, but I think those are more the exception than the rule.
“Now, we have an opportunity to sit down with members of Congress—and all of us in public-safety community—to hammer out some of the changes that we would like to see and that others would like to see … in the statute, so what is ultimately agreed upon can be embraced and supported by everyone.”
Currently, the LIFT America Act is the only legislation introduced that includes federal funding to support the deployment of NG911. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) vowed in April to reintroduce the Next-Generation 911 Act she proposed during the last congressional session—language supported by NENA—but no proposal has surfaced to date. Klobuchar has not indicated whether she would use the same language that was in her 2019 NG911 standalone bill or whether some aspects of the LIFT America Act language would be incorporated.
Fontes declined to speculate on what NG911 legislation from Klobuchar would include, but he said that NENA personnel are “ready, willing and able to work with” Klobuchar and her staff on the language for a standalone bill.
“I have no knowledge of what Sen. Klobuchar … will actually introduce,” Fontes said.
“Going back to the LIFT Act in the House, if there can be agreement on the language among all of us in public safety, then perhaps all of us could then approach Sen. Klobuchar to basically go through what the new language is and how it may differ from the previous Congress’s efforts to fund next-generation 911.”